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Here's how much more south suburban homeowners pay in taxes
Property tax rates in the south suburbs are about twice what they are in western and north suburbs. We looked at comparably priced homes in several locations to see what that means in the dollars a homeowner pays

Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business
by Dennis Rodkin

A home in south suburban Flossmoor sold last week for about 50 percent below what the sellers paid for it in 2006, a common enough story in Chicago's slowly rising real estate market. Here's what's not so common: In that same stretch of 12 years, the home's property tax bill went up by 40 percent.

The dollar amounts are different—the sale price of the house on Braeburn Avenue went down by more than $500,000, while the taxes went up $6,700 between the 2006 and 2018 tax bills.

But the criss-cross paths of prices and property taxes, with one going down while the other goes up, is a painful truth of the Chicago housing market that is most acute in the south Cook County suburbs. Tax rates in south Cook County municipalities are, on average, about twice those in western and northern towns.

"The taxes are outrageous," said Felicia Johnson, the D'aprile Properties agent who represented the buyers. "They're absolutely the reason it was on the market so long. It's a beautiful house. It's gorgeous."

The house first came on the market in February 2015 and went under contract in December with her clients, who closed their purchase Feb. 22. The buyers, whom Johnson declined to identify, were moving from another home in Flossmoor, so "they knew Flossmoor taxes," she said, but buyers looking in from other parts of the region "would say 'Oh, my God.' "

First-time buyers who go house hunting in the south suburbs "are shocked by the property taxes," said Regina Washington, a Matchmaker Property Solutions who works primarily in that area. They may not zero in on the bills until "their lender tells them, with taxes this high, you're going to have to look for houses that cost less" in order to be able to afford the total monthly cost of homeownership.

VHT studios

This Matteson home sold for $330,000.

Both Johnson and Washington said high south Cook County taxes rarely on their own push homebuyers out of the region. They may have family, work, church or other ties to the area, and besides, "the house costs so much less that they take the tax bill," Washington said. "But they don't get more for their taxes than somebody else" who buys in a lower-tax part of the metro area.

In Wheaton, which is about as far west of downtown Chicago as Flossmoor is south, a house on Burning Trail that sold Feb. 12 for $510,000 has a property tax bill of $11,240, or less than half the Flossmoor home's $23,420 bill. The same distance north of the Loop, in Highland Park, a house on St. Charles Place that sold for $500,000 on Feb. 20 has a property tax bill of about $13,200.

The charts that accompany this story illustrate examples in other price ranges, comparing the tax bills on south suburban homes that sold in February to homes of the same value at other points on the compass.

Berg Properties

This Flossmoor home sold for $270,000.

Property tax bills are highly individualized due to variables that range from lot size to senior citizen exemptions, and some of these examples are in lower-taxing collar counties. Yet the pattern is clear: For south suburban homebuyers, property taxes are a considerably larger piece of the burden they'll take on with the house than it is for buyers in other parts of the metropolitan area.

A key reason for south Cook County's higher property taxes is the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana areas in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which has shifted the tax burden onto homeowners. In the years after the housing bust, south Cook County was hit hard by foreclosures. At the height of the crisis, about 1 in 20 homes were in foreclosure in many south suburbs—Calumet City, Hazel Crest, Markham and Olympia Fields among them—compared with a countywide peak of about 1 in 33, according to the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University. The foreclosure crisis left homes empty or decrepit, further shifting the tax burden to the owners of viable homes.

At the same time, municipalities, school districts and other taxing bodies for the most part "haven't been shrinking their footprint," said Ted Dabrowski, president of Wirepoints, a website that focuses on fiscal policy in Illinois.

The combination forces property taxes up faster in the south suburbs than elsewhere. Dabrowski's research shows that the property tax rate grew by about 54 percent in Homewood between 2008 and 2019, which is more than double the rate of growth in Wheaton in the same time span (24 percent). "But the reality is that Homewood is one of the best-off suburbs" in the southern region, Dabrowski said in an email.

Matchmaker Property Solutions

This Olympia Fields home sold for $115,000.

It's not universally true across the south suburbs. Towns like Orland Park, which has a strong base for sales taxes in the Orland Square Mall, haven't had to jack up property taxes as much.

But generally, "homeownership is more expensive in the south suburbs because of property taxes," said Kristi DeLaurentiis, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors & Managers Association. That's why her organization and others believe redevelopment of an employment base and commercial property in the long-overlooked area is key.

"We need to energize commercial investment in the south suburbs," DeLaurentiis said. "It's an important step toward community stabilization."



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